Hair, check. Outfit, check. Makeup, check. No over-analyzing, no regrets. I remember drinking a vat of sangria and I remember a sizzling kiss. A kiss that left my lips buzzing with excitement and my belly housing those trapped bald eagles which were flapping around like crazy. Time to face the music and take the next step.

Deep breaths, aaaaaaand go!

I come out of my bedroom and find Edward pouring two mugs of coffee. As he lifts his head to greet me, that glorious crooked grin of his is front and center, making my heart melt just a little. This is the second day in a row that he hasn't shaved. The scruff along his jaw and down his neck looks sinful. He passes a cup across the counter to me and nods.

"Morning," he says with a smile, bringing his cup up to those sensational lips.

"Good morning," I reply, an equally cheery grin on my face. "Thanks for pouring."

"You're welcome. Sleep well?" He asks, his eyebrow quirked mischievously.

"Umm, pretty good." Understatement of the century. I dreamt of Edward and me and our lips and legs and arms tangling with each other, under, over and around the sheets in my bed. I woke up in a cold sweat, not once but twice. So yeah...pretty good sums it up nicely. "How 'bout you?"

He chuckles, closing the carton of creamer. "Uhhh, yeah. If we're being completely honest here, that kiss laid the foundation for some pretty intense dreams." He turns his back to return the creamer to the fridge and I swear I hear him mumble, "...to put it mildly."

My heart jumps in my chest hearing his honest assessment of what my kissing him did to his psyche. I look down, trying to gather my composure, lest I start giggling like a silly schoolgirl.

"Well, good...mission accomplished, then," I deliver boldly and add a wink for good measure.

"Can we talk about it?" He asks sincerely, his face suddenly the picture of concern.

I raise my eyebrows and my hand, palm out, inviting him to take the proverbial floor.

He leans toward me, across the counter, propped up on his elbows. I do the same to mirror his image...also because it brings our faces within a few inches of each other. Any excuse to get closer to this man. I think I'm becoming some sort of addict where he's concerned.

"Whaddya want to talk about, Cap'n?" I smile, knowing that talking about feelings isn't necessarily anywhere in the realm of his comfort zone.

"Well," he looks down at his folded hands for a moment, then lifts his eyes to mine, "I want you to know that, sangria-influenced or not, I kinda liked kissing you last night."

I feel my cheeks ache with the smile that's taken over my expression. "Well that's good," I respond quietly and then crook my finger, requesting that he come closer. His stubbly cheek is scratching up against mine and I whisper, "because I kinda liked kissing you, too." I pause to inhale his incredible scent. He smells fresh and clean, with just a hint of orgasm-inducing cologne. "And I'm gonna do it again."

We pull back in unison and I watch him swallow tightly with a smirk. "You, Ms. Newton, are a barrel of trouble. I feel like I don't know what I'm getting into with you."

"But isn't that the fun of it?" I question, attempting to pull off a sexiness in my tone. "We're both adults; we're having an amazing time in a tropical paradise. Isn't it enough to just have some fun and enjoy each other's company?"

He chuckles, humorlessly. "Believe me, Bella; I'm all about having fun. But with you..." he shakes his head, looking away. "These last two weeks with you have proven to me that you're somebody different. You deserve more than that. You deserve to be treated differently. I'm not used to this...this..."

"Hey," I say, shaking my head. I cut him off by putting my hand on top of his hands which he's currently wringing together as if trying to shed some skin. "Whatever you're driving yourself nuts about, don't. We're allowed to do whatever we want, Edward. Our rules...nobody else's."

"I couldn't give a shit about what other people's rules are right now, Bella. My biggest concern is you, and how my rules fit into the giant scheme of things. You practically knocked me unconscious two weeks ago, and I haven't been the same person since!" He's backed up from the counter at this point and is pacing back and forth in the little four-by-six kitchen. "And everyone who knows me is noticing the change!" His voice has risen in volume and register; clearly we're entering uncharted waters here.

I straighten up and walk over to the couch, motioning for him to do the same. I sit and turn to the side, tucking my right leg under my left as I get comfortable while he collapses next to me and covers his face with his hands and scrubs brusquely.

I thought I could approach this chat in a light-hearted manner, but I'm watching what I assume is Edward's very composed version of a minor mental breakdown...so yeah, I'm thinking this is neither the time nor place for nonchalant and carefree.

"Talk to me, Goose." I at least try to break the ice with a little military humor, which I can see he appreciates when he gives me his half-smile and a joking roll of the eyes.

He shakes his head before venting. "You should know I feel like a complete idiot that I'm talking to you about this...but I can't shut my brain off. I get paid to think, y'know? My job is to be the ultimate planner. I look at the facts and the Marine Corps expects me to know how to proceed from there. What supplies we need to complete a mission, how many and how to effectively disperse them."

"What is your job, anyway? I mean, aside from being the Grim Reaper from time to time." Me with the attempts at humor again. At least he throws his head back and huffs. "You said in the grocery store the other day that you're a logistician?"

"No. My MOS is a thirty-oh-two."

I widen my eyes and roll my wrist in a forward motion to demonstrate my need for him to continue to fill in the blanks because he may as well be speaking Greek at the moment.

"MOS...Military Occupational Skill. I got commissioned once I graduated from Officer Candidate School and The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. Then, I went on to school in Jacksonville, North Carolina and was trained as a ground supply officer. I am a logistician, but the logistics devil dogs have their own MOS," he explains, scratching at his jaw. "So yeah, I'm a supply officer. Tanks to toilet paper...beans, bullets and Band-Aids. Anything in between; you need it, I'm your guy." He smiles, all proud of himself.

"Cool. So you're a pretty important guy to have around when somebody needs something, huh?"

He winks. "Everybody wants to be my friend."

"I don't doubt that for a minute," I sigh. "But seriously, back to this." I wave a hand between the two of us. "What's on your mind?"

He rubs his eyebrows and exhales grandly. "When we were hiking, I told you my feelings on relationships. I'm just...it's safer for me to not settle down. It'll lessen the chances of broken hearts all around, you know?"

I purse my lips and shake my head. "I think you're selling yourself short, but I already told you that last week. And listen, all we did was kiss, alright?" He's looking down toward our legs, but I bend my face down in search of his and force him to find my eyes. "I didn't ask for a proposal or anything. Can't we just enjoy ourselves?"

He barks out a laugh. "I think we can enjoy ourselves a hell of a lot, but Bella," he looks toward the balcony, "I feel like you deserve better than what I can do...what I can offer."

I shake my head to stop his train of thought. "Let's not worry about that, okay? I really appreciate you looking out for me, but let's just be free for now." I throw my hands up haphazardly. "Have fun, be silly, make memories...enjoy what we have. This is just the start of an awesome month, y'know? And who knows what'll happen once we get back to Oahu? You may not be able to stand the sight of me, did you ever think of that?"

He laughs again. "Pretty sure there's absolutely no chance of that happening, but thanks for trying to play devil's advocate."

I shrug with a smile. "Well, I am pretty spectacular..." I add with a joking wink, "...but hey, there's no pressure here. I'm not worried and I don't think you should be either, okay?" I softly punch his upper arm, trying to get him to loosen up. "I think we should take each day as it comes...each hour...whatever. You came to my hotel asking to join me on this trip because you weren't ready to say goodbye. It made me giddy inside because I didn't want our time to come to an end either. So here we are together and we know that something's happening here," I bite my lower lip and smile. "So now, your job is to take off that over-analyzing, 'Captain Plans-It-All' cape, and just go with the flow!"

He looks at me skeptically and sighs. "Bella, please…"

"No!" I shout and stand up. "Don't 'Bella please' me..." He quirks his eyebrow to challenge me and I click my tongue with a roll of my eyes, knowing both of our minds went straight to the gutter on that one. "You know what I mean. We're here on vacation...a brand new slate, got it? If it helps, you can pretend like last night didn't even happen."

"That's a physical impossibility, but nice try."

"All right, fine...let's just start today by saying there's no pressure to act a certain way or say certain things...whatever happens happens. The order of the day, and EVERY day from here on out is to have fun, be silly, be spontaneous and make memories, okay?"

Edward nods from his seated position on the couch. "Yes, ma'am. Clean slate, no pressure, be spontaneous...got it."

I smile, proud of myself for being so assertive and having him listen and take my advice to heart. "If we feel it's necessary to come back to the table for another summit, we'll do it. But for now, we start fresh." He and I nod at the same time. "So we're good?" I ask again to clarify.

He stands up in front of me, that gorgeous smile playing on his lips. "We're great." Then, without warning, Edward cups my cheeks in his warm hands and tilts my face up as his lips descend to mine. He teases me repeatedly with Eskimo-kisses and soft brushes of his skin against mine until our mouths are open and our tongues languidly join in the moment.

Over and over again, it's slow and deliberate. Nobody is knocking teeth or smothering the other. Though my eyes are closed, I can feel his right hand drop away from my face and he runs it down the side of my arm and plants it on my hip where he squeezes my side. I allow the slightest moan to escape and that seems to break the scene because he pulls back from our lip lock.

My head is still tilted upward as I gradually open my eyes. I find Edward gazing down at me with his intense stare; his green eyes communicating everything I think he's too nervous to say. I'm not worried though, we'll get there in time.

"How's that for spontaneous, Clementine?" he whispers, gruffly.

I nod, repeatedly. "Good." More nodding, since I'm essentially mute; the feeling of his mouth on mine too fresh to form coherent language. "Really, really good."

He backs up just a step, drops his hands from my body and says, "Well, all right then. Ready to start our day?"

Oh, yes, sir. Ready and willing.


After Edward left me reeling from that knee-buckling kiss, we spent the remainder of the day footloose and fancy-free, as corny as that sounds. We took a helicopter ride which provided us with an aerial tour of the Waimea Canyon and an overview of the island in general. We learned that approximately eighty percent of Kauai is uninhabited, remote and wild, so the best way to truly appreciate the island is by air. We toured the fifteen-mile stretch of the stunning Na Pali Coast, with its sheer cliffs that drop thousands of feet straight down to the ocean. We took a ton of pictures, most of which were insane shots with us wearing humongous earphones and frightening close-ups of our faces. We scrolled through the pictures once we landed and laughed until our sides hurt at some of the facial expressions we captured of each other. Though I got a handful of decent shots, I'm definitely buying several postcards to rely on when I want to remember the view from the sky. Professionals take way better pictures than two people laughing and flirting and desperately trying to not toss their cookies because of hitting some choppy air from time to time. Before turning in for the night we decide that tomorrow we need a beach day.

We couldn't have picked a more perfect day for it, either. The temperature isn't oppressive; even though it's almost reached ninety degrees, there's a reliable sea breeze that's doing a fantastic job of keeping us feeling comfortable in the blazing sun.

Edward happily obliges when I ask him to apply suntan lotion to my back and I even reciprocate for him and manage not to drool while rubbing my hands down his chiseled-from-stone back and shoulders. We've not gotten physical with each other since the kiss he planted on me yesterday morning, but I'm not worried. We're not in a rush to prove anything to ourselves or each other, which is exactly how I wanted things.

I look over at Edward who's reclined in his beach chair; he's got mirrored sunglasses on, a sexy-as-hell silver watch on his right wrist, his black-encased dog tags rest centered on his breastbone and he's wearing brick red board shorts that are sitting low on his hips. If that visual isn't enough to send me over the edge, I seem to be getting turned on just by staring at the hair on his body. What the hell is wrong with me? I mean, yes, I'm attracted to his face and his physique: tall, thin but toned all over. However, since I've been living with him, for all intents and purposes, I've begun to study the finer details of Captain Edward Masen. I'm not sure if this is normal or not, but for the love of God, his forearms have this collection of brownish-blonde hair all over them that make me just want to run my fingers through it. Same thing with his chest…not too much, not too little and holy shit the treasure trail that starts halfway down his torso and seems to get a little thicker the further south it travels. His legs are incredibly defined and his feet, his feet! The man has sexy feet! And don't even get me started on his hands. Long, strong fingers with tendons and veins visible under the surface of his tanned skin. They actually remind me of musicians' hands. I should ask him if he plays guitar or something. I shake my head to attempt to clear it from the "Edward's body can do no wrong" dossier that my mind seems to be writing.

"Clehhhmentiiiiiine…you with me?" Edward is waving his arm, trying to get my attention. I'm completely spaced out, even though I'm staring directly at him.

"Huh? Whu—?" I swear I have a Master's degree, though my eloquent response doesn't reflect that fact at the moment.

"I was telling you I wanted to go for a walk and was asking if you were interested in joining me."

I sit up with a smile. "Oh yeah, definitely! Let's do it!"

Our walk starts off quietly with just some people-watching along the way until Edward breaks the ice. "So, I wanted to be honest with you and tell you I overheard that message that your friend left, uhh, Alice I think."

He looks at me to check my reaction. I'm not upset with him, so I nod for him to go on.

"Yeah. I didn't mean to eavesdrop when you were checking your messages, but your speakerphone was on and…"

I raise my hand to stop him. "No worries," I say, tucking my hair behind my ears after a big gust of wind comes across our path. "Alice is just…I don't know…overprotective I guess," I shake my head at my conservative choice in words. "She, among others, isn't really comfortable with me being in Hawaii on my own."

"But you're not on your own." He gently shoves me with his shoulder, a smile on his face the whole time.

"Yeah…that's part of it, too. She ummm," I stutter and shrug, "she thinks it's inappropriate," I use air quotes, "that you and I are spending time together. And that was before anything, y'know, happened between us."

We walk in silence for a few hundred feet before I pipe up again. "It's not just you, though. She'd feel this way no matter who I was spending time with."

"Oh gee, thanks. My ego didn't take a hit on that at all, in case you're wondering."

I laugh and put my hand on his forearm. "Aww, I'm sorry. Look, I've been on my own for over three years. Aside from visits home to New York, I haven't been out of North Carolina. I haven't really had the opportunity to see what else is out there, you know? Everyone's kept a pretty close eye on me."

Edward's eyebrows dip in confusion. "Well, I know we've only been hanging out for two weeks now, but you seem pretty healthy to me…emotionally, I mean…like you're ready to get out there again." I nod, agreeing. "And I'm not just saying that 'cause of those kisses we shared," he adds with a wink and that crooked grin of his.

I can't help but giggle. "Well, I appreciate your intellectual and unbiased opinion. But you're right, I am. I think I've felt that way for a while, but like I said, I just haven't had the opportunity because of my friends. They've sheltered me, I guess...sheltered themselves," I mumble and look away.

"It was pretty hard on Alice, when Mike was killed," I explain and look at Edward, who nods for me to go on. "They grew up together, actually. Next-door neighbors from diapers," I shrug. "They were the kinds of friends that would finish each other sentences. I asked Mike if they'd ever hooked up, but he said they hadn't. Jasper had moved into the neighborhood early in their high school years, and Alice was done for. So if there ever was an attraction between her and Mike, it was when they were very young and certainly before they acted on their feelings.

"I lost my husband and child. She lost a great friend." I pause to collect my thoughts. "I don't think that any amount of grieving I do for Mike will ever be enough for her. I guess she just looks at it like she had to share her best friend with me when he and I got together. And until she's ready to let go, there's no way I should even think about doing it, you know?" I look to Edward, not necessarily for an answer, but just trying to communicate my frustration.

"My parents started asking about a year ago if I'd met anyone. I think they're ready for me to move on, but like I said, Jasper and Alice are my go-to people; if they're not ready, they're certainly not going to help put me in a position to meet anyone either," I huff, lifting my hands in surrender.

"Are they your only friends out in Cherry Point?"

I sigh in resignation. "You're in the Marine Corps, Edward. You know how transient this life is. Friendly people come and go. I have several acquaintance-friends, teachers I work with, Angela Weber for one, but she's pretty quiet about my love life. Plus she plays for the other team and is in a committed relationship, so she's never really actively seeking guys on my behalf," I chuckle.

"Yeah, I gotcha."

I shake my head. "I think when I find out if I'm getting a transfer, that'll snap Alice out of it. Once she knows I won't be under her— I don't know if supervision is the right word— but you get what I'm saying. Anyway, maybe she'll realize that it's time to move on…or maybe she won't," I shrug, "Who knows?"

"Well, I hope you guys can work it out. I'm sorry she's not been very supportive of you. And you sound pretty sure of yourself that you want to start fresh somewhere else. What's kept them in the same spot all this time?"

"They all grew up in Jacksonville, actually. Jasper's parents were in the Marine Corps; that's what brought him there during high school. Alice's mom and dad worked for the government, so they were stationed around the area's bases, too. They've since retired, though. Mike's family happened to be locals. That's how they all came together." I get distracted by the speed boat passing by out on the water. "That looks AWESOME!" I'm officially off my sob story and ready to have some fun.

"What, taking a boat ride?"

"No, the inner tubes that the boat is dragging…doesn't it look relaxing?"

Edward holds his hand above his eyes to check out the scene. "Yeah, it looks cool. The tube is skipping over the wake that the boat is creating. It seems more exhilarating than relaxing, though. Sure you're up for it?" he asks, looking back at me.

"Uhhh, hell yeah! We totally need to do that, come on!" I pull on his hand until he starts to move with me. We head up to the top of the beach to the little hut where you select the water activities you want to purchase.

After we pay, the guy radios the speed boat driver on his walkie talkie and calls him back to the shore. The driver hands us life jackets, and then sets Edward and me up with our inner tubes. We sit down inside of them with our legs dangling over the front rim and our bodies propped up on the other side.

"Make sure you hold on tight. When your tubes hit the wake, it gets a little bumpy," he says, making sure our tubes are tied tightly to the rope that extends to the back of the speed boat. "You might wanna give me your shades and watch, dude," the driver suggests to Edward.

"Oh, okay." Edward takes them off and hands them to the driver who slips them in the breast pocket of his shirt. "Ready?"

I look over at Edward and he smiles at me and we nod for the driver. "If you want me to speed up, just raise your arm up high. I'll keep checking back with you from time to time. And if you fall out of the tubes, just stay put, I'll come back around for you."

I shrug, looking at Edward and whisper, "I can't imagine we'd fall out, right? This is gonna be so relaxing." Edward snorts and shakes his head while I settle back into my tube.

"Here we go!" The driver announces and gives us a thumbs up as we pull off.

We start out sailing really slowly and I grip the plastic handles more tightly just to be safe. Ahh, this is pretty great. I look over at Edward and give him a big grin. At that moment, the boat picks up speed just a bit.

"Woohoo!" I find myself shouting for joy as the wind hits my face and the sea spray kicks up alongside the tube. Just then I feel my body shift backwards and I have to tighten my grip yet again. I feel like we're suddenly going twice as fast. I look over at Edward who's calling to me, I think, but it's impossible to hear what he's saying.

Faster and faster and faster. What looked like a relaxing experience from the beach is a true test of somebody's blood pressure. I feel like I'm holding on for dear life as the G-force is pushing me back in the tube and doing its best to have me lose control completely and fly off into the ocean.

The speed boat starts to twist back and forth in the water and in doing so, it creates countless waves in its wake. Edward is about forty feet away from me and I'm watching him fly over the waves. The boat shifts and now it's my turn to bounce over the wake.




I'm screaming with every pounding my poor ass is taking on top of the waves, and the wedgie I know I'm sporting feels horrific. Holy shit, this is a pain I really didn't bargain on.


Bella sounds like a Muppet with each wave she hits. It's like she's squeaking over there. The way she's holding onto the handles, I'm sure her arms have to be burning; God knows I'm holding on with a death grip.

Fuck, here comes my turn. I growl and grip the bars with as much strength as I can muster. Relaxing, my ass. As the boat shifts again, I find relief but know that means that Bella is up again.




Next thing I know, Bella's inner tube is skimming vacantly on top of the water and I can't find her anywhere. The boat slows significantly and pulls us back around. I'm frantically scanning the ocean and it's then that I spot her waving her arm, flagging us down.

"Christ Almighty, are you all right?" I ask as my tube drifts closer to Bella who's laughing hysterically right now.

"I'm fine," she sputters, treading water in front of me. "This has been the most relaxing twenty seconds of the entire experience," she says, laughing while she grabs my hand that I'm holding out for her.

"I have to agree," I start. "once our driver took his hand off the gas when he realized you went over, it went back to that calm and peaceful tube ride you thought we were signing up for when you suckered me into this nonsense."

"Brat!" She calls out and splashes me which spurs me to hop off the tube and engage her in an all-out splash war.

"Your time was just about up, folks. Want me to tow you in a bit?" The driver asks as the boat pulls up next to where we're treading together.

We gratefully agree and the driver instructs us to just thread our arms through the inner tube and he pulls us in slowly.

Once we're in the shallow waters, the driver tosses Edward his watch and sunglasses, gives us a wave and we let go and get our footing in the sand.

"My arms feel like Jell-O," Bella whines and I have to agree. But I take the opportunity to touch her again.

"Mine are a little worn out, too…but I wouldn't want you to drown and ruin our perfectly lazy beach day. Hang onto me." Bella bites her lip and then reaches out her hand to mine. I pull her close with my hands gripping her waist. When she wraps her arms around my neck, her legs are just dangling down the front of my body, but then she gets bold and sassy, thank fuck, and wraps her legs around my waist.

"Well, now this is cozy," I whisper as she and I come face to face.

"I think so," she giggles. "Sorry that experience didn't end up as laid-back as I'd hoped."

I bark out a laugh. "Uhh, yeah. You owe me big time on that one, Clementine. I might need a massage to work out the tension in my arms and back muscles after that unexpected workout."

I'm sort of bouncing on my feet, slowly spinning us in the water. The feeling of Bella, practically weightless in my arms, is fucking amazing.

"Well, lucky for you, Haku showed me some effective techniques when he gave me my massage the other day. If you give me a chance, I think you'll appreciate the moves he shared," she flirts into my ear.

I snort and roll my eyes in response. "Don't remind me."

"What? What do you mean?" she asks, her brows furrowed in wonder.

"It was like torture listening to that giant give you that massage. All your moaning and groaning," I shake my head, still irked, "my imagination was running wild, I'll have you know."

She giggles and buries her face in my neck. I savor the feeling of her coming so close. It's almost more intimate than the couple of kisses we've shared.

"Well, I should confess that I was wishing it was you who was giving me that massage, Cap'n," she says as she pulls her face back to lock eyes with mine.

"Is that so?" Bella smiles, nodding as her legs tighten around my waist. "Well c'mere then."

I take that opportunity to lean forward and she meets my awaiting kiss. Her lips are so fucking soft, I can't get enough. My tongue finds hers and we slide them in and out of each other's mouths. Pushing and pulling with soft nips along the way. Our heads swap positions tilting right and then left. When we both need to come up for air, she slowly pulls away but then leans her forehead against mine.

"Mmmmm. That was nice," she murmurs with her eyes still closed. "Salty, but nice."

We laugh in unison and I go back in for a final peck. "Yes, it was."

"Wanna head back to the condo? I'm ready to wash the salt and sand off, and we should get ready for dinner."

"Yeah, definitely. Just…" I loosen my hold around her back and she unlocks her legs from my hips and stands before me. "I need a minute."

Bella's looking at me in confusion and I raise my eyebrows knowingly trying to convey without words why I can't step out of the ocean onto a crowded beach. Clarity dawns on her face and she twists her lips to the side to contain her smirk.

"Sorry about that," she snarks, her eyes traveling to the waterline and below.

Little minx. "No, you're not," I retort and start tickling her sides.

Laughing and splashing for the next few seconds helps detract from being all hot and bothered just a few minutes ago. Finally, my dick deflates enough so that I can wander the beach without getting arrested for lewd behavior or indecent exposure.

"All right. Let's head back."


Bella and I took a river tour of the Fern Grotto the following day. We stopped along the way to walk on the bridges and walkways that travel the rainforest. The scenery was awe-inspiring with its enormous overhangs of lush greenery, multiple waterfalls and beautiful flowers. I wished I could've broken away from the group tour we were on to bring Bella under a waterfall and just kiss the hell out of her, but it didn't happen. The only awkward part of the day was when the guides on the tour stopped and asked that we each stand next to someone we love. It's not like Bella and I had a choice and we certainly weren't going to walk away from each other, but they proceeded to serenade us with the Hawaiian Wedding Song. We just stood there listening and exchanging smiles. I tried my best not to overthink the moment, but I can't say I wasn't wondering what the translated lyrics meant and how I could possibly apply them to Bella and me. I'll have to do some research to find out what was being sung, for future reference or…oh fuck if I know. Do I even know anything anymore after being with this woman for two weeks?


"Let's go, Cap'n! I'm waiting!"

"Cool your jets, Clementine, I had to search through my jeans to find a coin." I plunk the nickel down on the coffee table next to Bella's legs, which are propped up while she has Google at the ready. We're literally flipping a coin to determine which island we visit next.

"Alrighty, sir. What's it gonna be?"

"I say heads for The Big Island...tails for Maui. Good?"

She shrugs, indifferently. "Fine by me, go for it."

I flip the nickel into the air and catch it, smacking it quickly to the top of my right hand. I pull my left hand away and both of us lean in to see the results and end up colliding. Bella instantly falls back on the couch holding her forehead and whining. I at least manage to remember to look down at the coin to find out where we're heading next.

"Owww," Bella calls out, pouting, her lower lip curled over itself. "You and your dumb head."

"Hey! I could say the same about you, ya know? It's been two weeks since you assaulted me, I guess I was due. I may have to rethink this abusive relationship I've gotten myself into."

Bella guffaws and looks over at me. "Need me to kiss it and make it better?"

"As a matter of fact," I smile and lean over. She gently plants a few whispery kisses on my forehead and pulls away. "So did you at least get a look at the coin before you attacked me with your big head?"

"Yes, I did. And we're going to The Big Island…so get to searching."

Bella starts typing away and in no time she finds us a three-bedroom condo with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, patio…the whole bit. It's a no-brainer, so she goes ahead and books it.

"Too bad this one won't have a private hot tub on our balcony," she crinkles her face in annoyance. "But it does have a deluxe garden tub with jets; that sounds promising."

She's looking at me with a devilish smirk in her eyes.

"That is a shame that we won't have a hot tub…I guess we just have to enjoy our final night in our tub here, right?" I ask with a quirk in my brow to match hers.

"Come on, Cap'n. Let's go enjoy our dinner and celebrate our final night on Kauai."


We choose to live it up and go to dinner at the St. Regis at Princeville. The setting alone is the perfect example of why my sister must've thought I got a raise in order to stay in such a place. The hotel itself sits on the side of a cliff that overlooks Hanalei Bay. The furnishings are top of the line. The fountain, as you enter the circle drive for the valet service, is the size of the ground floor of my mother's home in California. The floral arrangement that greets us as we walk into the lobby, with vibrant bursts of color provided by every bloom, is a monstrosity to the point that Bella and I could hide in it and we wouldn't ever be discovered. The lobby alone looks like a fantastic place to host the next Officer's Ball. Too bad nobody will ever pay to fly over to another island to have such an event.

Bella keeps saying, "Oh, my God" with each new spectacle that meets our eyes. Then, once we're seated she sings me a few choruses of "Puff the Magic Dragon". When I look at her like she's certifiable, she reminds me that Peter, Paul and Mary were singing about the land called Honah Lee, the marijuana-tweaked version of Hanalei. Then she proceeds to point out the mountain structure across the bay and hell if it doesn't look like a sleeping dragon.

The Makana Terrace serves us a decadent dinner and dessert. We agree, since we've been so economical throughout the week with our meals, that we're sparing no expense for our final night on the Garden Island.

We're enjoying drinks at our table while the waitress is off settling our bill and out of the corner of my eye I see one of my commanding officers walking through the restaurant. He's heading straight for me and there's no way I would try and dodge him. His wife is a real pill; one of the types of officers' wives who try to use their husband's rank as a way to get things done. I salute him, lady, not you. But unfortunately, those are words that you can't ever say to one of these women unless you really want your ass handed to you on your next FitRep, let alone being chewed out at work by her husband the following day. Hopefully, I can just get away with a quick hello and they'll move on.

I stand as he and his wife approach. "Good evening, Colonel Cullen," I say formally and look toward his wife, "Ma'am."

"Captain Masen! What are you doing over here? You get lost, son?" he chuckles.

"No sir, just enjoying my leave actually," I reply, smiling and then turn to Bella who instantly stands at my side. "Sir, I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Isabella Newton."

"Pleasure to meet you," he says offering her his hand. "This is my wife, Esme." She steps forward and raises her hand to shake Bella's.

"Mrs. Cullen," the woman corrects her husband.

I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes at her rudeness. "Are you vacationing as well, Sir?"

"It's our anniversary tonight, so we decided to fly out for the weekend. We'll head back tomorrow."

Bella and I both wish them a happy anniversary, but I notice that Mrs. Cullen's eyebrow is quirked oddly in my direction.

Colonel Cullen pipes up. "Excuse me for a minute. Darling? Wine?" Mrs. Cullen nods as the Colonel walks off to the bar to get their drinks.

"Didn't you attend an O-Call last fall with a female officer, Captain Masen?" Mrs. Cullen inquires, though I don't know where she's going with this.

I think quickly on my feet and remember what she's referring to. "Uhh, yes ma'am. Lieutenant Clearwater was my guest that evening." I swallow tightly and steal a glance at Bella who's wearing a perfect poker face.

"So…you're no longer dating Clearwater?"

"Oh," I look down and away, my hand flying to the back of my neck as I give it a nervous rub. "She and I were just friends…well, are friends, I mean. I haven't seen her since I returned from my deployment, though."

Just then, Colonel Cullen returns with two drinks in hand and offers the wine to his meddling wife. "What'd I miss?"

She turns to him, butter could melt in her mouth with the tone she's using. "I was just remembering that Captain Masen attended our autumn Officer's Call with a young, lovely female officer last year."

Clueless, the Colonel presses the issue and I suddenly want to dive off the cliff to go hang out with Puff across the bay.

"Oh. Well, I think it shouldn't matter to us who Masen is spending time with, right dear?" he asks his wife.

"Not really. I was just remembering this striking woman, tall, beautiful russet skin, very attractive," she shakes her head and smiles tersely at Bella. "I didn't mean anything by it. I just remembered her face and it didn't match this young lady's here."

Awkward silence descends and I step closer to Bella and put my arm around her lower back. I decide to end our visit before I get arrested for decking this woman.

"Well, enjoy your evening." I nod to the Colonel and usher Bella away after she smiles and nods politely.

"You too, Masen. Enjoy the rest of your leave."


The ten-minute ride back to our condo is painful. Bella is silent and looking out the window. I haven't said a word either, because I've been dumbfounded by Mrs. Cullen's inexcusable and nosy questions, let alone her aloofness and the air of superiority she displayed.

I hold the door open for Bella and she smiles and brushes past me and heads toward her room. I'm worried she'll go in for the night if I don't figure out a way to fix this.

"I feel like our night went down the toilet in that five-minute conversation we had with my Colonel and his wife."

Bella stops and turns around. "It was pretty awful. I know you didn't mean for it to happen, though." She wraps her arms protectively across her chest. "But that woman made me feel about two inches tall. It was like she was trying to upset me. Why would she have done that?"

I shake my head, defeated, because I haven't got the foggiest idea. But I walk over to Bella so that I can look closely in her eyes when I say what I'm about to say.

"I don't know what her angle was, and I'm really sorry that she was such a snobby bitch-"

Bella interrupts me, backing up a couple feet. "I mean, I know full well that you've dated other women!" She throws her hands up in the air. "For God's sake, I was fucking married…not that she would know that. I just don't get why she was purposely trying to make us both feel terrible!" She marches back toward the refrigerator and snatches one of the remaining bottles of half-drunk wine, pulls the cork off and starts guzzling. "Who does that?"

I raise my eyebrows at her sudden drinking and can't help the smile that creeps onto my face. I walk around to the other side of the counter where she's just perched herself and hop up to join her. She takes another big gulp from the bottle and then passes it to me. I take it from her and chug for a few seconds.

"So lovely and tall…russet skin…blahhhh!" Bella mimics Mrs. Cullen's description of Leah and I have to laugh. Grabbing the bottle back, she takes another swig and turns to me. "Can you make a concession for me since I'm not tall, Cap'n?"

I push some wayward hair away from her face as she looks down at the cork still in her hand. With two fingers underneath, I gently tilt her chin up toward me and shake my head. "Bella, I'm ignoring every natural instinct I have when it comes to you. Every need to run, to not care, to not stare, to not linger in your presence. Nobody else has ever had this effect on me." I lean in and touch my forehead to hers. "I'm scared shitless because this is so new to me. Christ, the things I'm starting to feel for you…for us. I'm almost thirty-four years old and I have butterflies in my stomach when you walk into a room," I admit.

She smiles at me shyly while lifting one shoulder. "You give me bald eagles."

I chuckle at her candor. "Bald eagles, huh? That's an awfully tiny belly to claim that bald eagles are flapping around in there. Maybe they're some odd breed…like dwarfs or something."


I raise my brows. "Hmm?"

She shakes her head with a pensive smile. "Just shut up and kiss me already. And then take me to the hot tub and kiss me some more."

Another cheek-aching grin comes across my face. "As you wish, Clementine."

Military Terms:

MOS- defined in the paragraph, but here you go again. Military Occupational Skill. Thirty-oh-two; 30-02, the MOS of a ground supply officer (Edward's job).

Devil dog- Marine Corps slang term for other Marines.

FitRep- Fitness report. Proficiency reports given to all Marines to evaluate every aspect of their performance, both physical and on the job within their MOS. Every Marine, no matter the rank, receives FitReps by their commanding officer. These also weigh heavily when it comes time for promotions in the ranks.

A/N: Big thank you to Team Cabanaboy for all they do. Cejsmom, Born and especially Jules for helping out with beta'ing while Momo was away this week. Love you all.

Onto The Big Island and *ahem* other things! ;)

Thank you to everyone who is reading, reviewing, lurking, pimping, tweeting, etc. I appreciate every one of you. I responded to every chapter 8 review last week. Some of you signed in as guests, and there are others with PMs turned off. Please make sure you're signed in ESPECIALLY if you're asking a question that you'd like me to answer!

xo, Jen